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Movie award winners and contenders

Tradition, modernity, religion, class and repression collide in the brilliant Iranian film, A Separation

Award season has started so the highlights this week include a Golden Globe winner, two Oscar contenders and a batch of Genie nominees. Also a film once touted as a contender, some updated Shakespeare and the usual escapist fare.


Here’s the list:

A Separation  4 ½ stars

Coriolanus   4 

Haywire   3 ½

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close  2 ½

Canada’s Top 10   --

Position Among the Stars   --

Underworld  --

Red Tails  --

A SEPARATION:  The genre is listed as “art house” but don’t let that mislead you. Yes it’s from (and definitely about) Iran. The language is Farsi and you understand it through subtitles. However, this film is also utterly absorbing; it moves fast, tells a universal story that could happen anywhere and can be enjoyed in two ways: for the story alone or as a portrait of modern life in Iran. We get a rich backgrounder, told subtly and sometimes, because the censors were watching, by implication only.  

Class differences drive the tale. A middle class wife wants to emigrate for the sake of her daughter. Her husband won’t abandon his dementia-afflicted father or let the daughter go. He hires a woman from the working-class suburbs as a caregiver but poverty, pride, and religious traditions shake the calm away. The film ends up in court, but not one we’re used to seeing. Witnesses and accused talk and argue at will as the judge tries to make sense of the conflict.

Authentic details, a strong script and excellent naturalistic acting make this a special film. No wonder it’s been winning awards (Berlin, Vancouver Film Festival, Golden Globes) and is a favorite for an Academy Award. Good to see, while so many pressures are trying to get us to hate Iran these days. (Fifth Avenue Cinemas)  4 ½ out of 5 

CORIOLANUS: One of Shakespeare’s lesser-known tragedies has much to say about politicians and pride. It’s set in old Rome but the issues feel contemporary. Ralph Fiennes recognized that and set his film version in our modern age where information is transmitted by an all-news TV channel and soldiers in battle look like U.S. marines in Iraq. It’s his first directing effort and it works, with a compelling story and fine acting. He stars as a Roman general who is lured into politics on the strength of his war-hero status. He’s too proud to listen to the people though and suspends civil liberties in the face of their growing demonstrations.

A party revolt sends him into exile where he joins an enemy army (led by Gerard Butler) mobilizing to conquer Rome. Fiennes plays it fierce. He’s said to have “grown from a man to a dragon”. It’s up to his mother, portrayed brilliantly by Vanessa Redgrave, to argue some sense into him. Brian Cox, another standout, plays a senator who encourages him in his rise, only to regret it. There are tough battle scenes and, befitting the modern day setting, only a little of the “From whenst comst thou?” language. Mostly it only sounds mildly quaint. “It shall be so.”  (International Village)  4 out of 5


HAYWIRE: Sometimes we just want to have fun at a movie. That Steven Soderbergh delivers with this intricately-wound international thriller that is chock-a-block with big name actors (Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas) but centers completely on a new arrival from the world of mixed martial arts. Her name is Gina Carano. Soderbergh got perfectly serviceable line-readings out of her and lots of kicks, jabs, flips and jumps and an amazing driving-backwards through the woods sequence. She controls the movie and all the men in it.

Right off the top, she gets into a kicking fight in a café with Channing Tatum and escapes by high jacking a car (and its owner, to whom she tells her whole story). She works for a private contractor that does CIA-like jobs for Michael Douglas. A hostage rescue in Barcelona (Banderas territory) leads to a double cross and she gets a chance for redemption with a British agent (Michael Fassbender) on a small job in Ireland. Nothing turns out as promised though and Carano has to battle on through a number of countries, tense standoffs and kinetic action cycles until she clears up what’s really been going on. Slick, undemanding entertainment. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres)  3 ½ out of 5  

EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE: This film works so hard to extract emotions out of 9-11 that it becomes more than a bit uncomfortable when it should be poignant and nice. Thomas Horn, a newcomer to acting who’s previous achievements were on TV’s Jeopardy, does a credible job playing a lad of just about his age. He’s a New Yorker whose dad died that day in the World Trade Centre. (Tom Hanks plays him with a twinkle in the flashbacks and Sandra Bullock plays the mother perpetually distracted in the present day).


More in New Movies

Disney wildlife times two, a blast at American politics and a traumatic teen drama

Also a couple of small but amiable comedies, one of them Canadian

More streaming ideas take you to Brazil, low-life China and two Jesse Eisenberg films

As well as a cleverly-plotted trip to Barcelona thanks to Netflix

Movie theatres are shut down, so what’s streaming?

Some modest recommendations and stay for the last one, an alarm about what has happened to the internet.
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